What a great weekend of fights we have for fans of women’s MMA. I am going to focus on the two big Bellator 259 fights. I also will remind you that Invicta FC takes place this Friday. As someone who is a contracted Invicta fighter, I never breakdown the Invicta fights, to eliminate any perceived bias. But it’s a great card featuring two title fights as Karina Rodriguez meets Daiana Torquato for the flyweight strap and Alesha Zappitella defends the atomweight title against Jessica Delboni.
Also, a heads up, I am in my own fight camp right now so this will be my last preview until after my fight. It does take time to watch video and try and make these as accurate as possible and during the last weeks of camp!
Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Leslie Smith
These ladies will meet in a rematch of their 2016 bout in which Cyborg won via first-round TKO. This time with the Bellator featherweight title on the line. Cyborg comes in at 23-2 on a three-fight winning streak and is 2-0 under the Bellator banner.
With Cyborg, the old expectations on her were that she was going to come at you like a tornado and you just hoped you could survive. However, since her defeat to Amanda Nunes, it’s been a bit different. I don’t know that it is because of the result of that fight or not, but she isn’t quite the same. And I think that that is a good thing. Yes, she still got stoppages of Julia Budd and Arlene Blencowe, but she didn’t get them in the old “race to end it quick as possible” fashion. She fought smart, tactical fights and worked to set up the finishes. In some ways, Cyborg is more dangerous than ever.
In this fight though, I expect a little bit of what worked for her in the past. On the feet, Cyborg has all the advantages here. She will have the power edge, the speed edge and just an overall better striking edge. Her work with legit boxers has really helped as well. So a return to old is quite possible here.
I expect we’ll see Cyborg come forward with a lot of aggression. One thing about her opponent is she is tough and durable. Smith won’t go away easy, and as a fight wears on, she often gets better. Cyborg may look to batter her early, wear her down and erase that chance of Smith getting any momentum. I expect Smith to want to get Cyborg down, so by keeping Smith moving backwards, it will make that even harder. The best way to do that is to really mix up the strikes. Don’t rely on simple jab-to-power punch combos. If she does that, it can become predictable enough for Smith to shoot. So mix up the strikes, work the kicks, and be a mix of Cyborg of old and the Cyborg we have seen recently.
Another option is force clinches on the cage. Normally I don’t suggest that against an opponent who probably wants you on the ground, but Cyborg is safe on the outside. She is so much stronger that if she is on the outside — maybe even on the inside — she is not going to be taken down. And Cyborg is really good in that clinch. She always gets the hooks and controls the position. An underrated part of Cyborg’s game is her ability to create strike openings in the clinch. She is really good at positioning both her and her opponents bodies and creating open areas to land, be it knees to the leg, or a combination of strikes to the body and head. From here she can also really wear Smith down.
Smith comes in at 12-8-1, going 2-1 thus far in Bellator, most recently a decision win over Amanda Bell in September.
Listen, it is not my job to convince you Smith can win. It’s not my job to convince you this will be any different than their last fight. It is my job to simply tell you what Smith will want to do to achieve a win.
What is it that she will want to do? Try and make Cyborg hesitant. I think attempting a shot right out of the gate would be a good idea. Make Cyborg worry that if she rushes in that Smith is going to come in low and take her down. Anything to slow her down is a benefit.
I know this doesn’t need to be said, but do not get into a brawl with Cyborg. Yeah, that is how Amanda Nunes beat Cyborg, but Smith isn’t the power puncher that Nunes is. So when Cyborg comes rushing in — assuming she does — look to tie her up. If she can tie her up and get a clinch in the middle of the cage, there are options like trip takedowns that could be available. And if Smith is going to win, she needs to be on the ground. Even if not getting a finish and not even seriously threatening with it, spend lots of time on top can maybe win her rounds.
Another thing, and it almost sounds contradictory to what I said earlier, but let Cyborg throw wild, just don’t be there to let them land. There is a myth that Cyborg doesn’t have the gas tank to go long, but that is pure myth. However, if Cyborg is winging hard shots that are not landing, it could tire her quicker. In the later rounds, those takedown attempts and spending time on to become easier. It is an uphill battle for Smith, but the longer she makes the fight, the better her odds.
Valerie Loureda vs. Hannah Guy
Okay, let’s be real. Everyone knows the deal. Bellator is going to bring Loureda along slowly, give her fights where she is expected to win because they see money in her. And that’s okay. This doesn’t mean Loureda is not good because the reality is, she is quite good. Behind all the social media photos and videos there is a talented, hardworking fighter there. Which is why I am surprised that this fight is happening. Because to my eyes, Hannah Guy is the worst type of opponent for Loureda.
Loureda comes in 3-0, but her opponents at the time were a combined 2-4, so we’ve yet to see how she handles a serious test. I think we will see that this time. Loureda will look to do a lot of what she did with Tara Graff, which is frustrate her and force mental errors. She will want to strike from a distance and use a lot of movement, be it side-to-side or back. Come forward in spurts. She knows she has an opponent who will want takedowns, so she would be smart to keep it at a distance where the takedowns can’t happen. That is when she can get Guy to make mistakes. Really, just like she did with Graff. In fact, she will want to fight this fight almost exactly as she fought Graff.
Loureda has some terrific throws and can be dangerous on top, but she does not want to play the ground game here. When she finds herself in clinch positions, her best bet is really to try and break off. What she has going for her is her body frame. She can get a really good wide stance that makes it hard for someone to wrap their arms around and secure a double leg. So in clinch situations, I want to see that wide stance and her making things difficult for Guy. I want to see her thinking more defensively in those positions. Don’t be too offensive and allow openings for Guy.
If Guy gets her down, be smart, limit space, keep Guy close to her. Guy is great at advancing to better positions, so keep her close and make that more difficult and don’t give her the space to land the strikes that would then force Loureda to move and let Guy pass.
Guy comes in at 2-1 with her last fight being a stoppage of Vanessa Grimes. Like Loureda, Guy herself has not fought the best of records, Grimes being 1-4 at the time but her lone loss was Kayla Hracho who is a very skilled opponent and Guy lost a split decision in that one.
For Guy, it is as simple as simple gets. To win this fight, she needs to be on the ground. All the pressure is on Loureda, so go in there and have fun and be confident. If Loureda does in fact do what she did with Graff, don’t chase after her and walk into something big. In fact, if Loureda is moving as much as she did with Graff, stand your ground. Stay in place, let the judges see who is moving away and maybe that will get Loureda to feel like she needs to come forward. Guy has to make Loureda play her game, not vice versa.
But if Loureda is moving and Guy chooses to go to her, do it smart, don’t follow in a straight path, that’s where you are going to run into something. Cut her off, side to side, limit the space Loureda can move and eventually you can close in on her. At that point Loureda will still be moving which lessens the power of the strikes coming at you. Takedowns can come from the clinch, but they will need to be more technique driven. I believe the opportunity to shoot in will be there. Set them up, don’t be afraid to spend some time throwing feints and looking willing to engage and get the takedown out of Loureda’s mind and that is when you can shoot in.
Once Guy gets it to the ground, as I said, she is great at passing and moving to better positions. She also is great at making you do what she wants you to do. Dig your forearm in and posture up and land punches. Those punches won’t really be about finishing (although she’ll obviously take that), but about making Loureda move and turn, and if Guy can do that and get the back of Loureda, she is perfectly capable of getting the rear-naked choke or even flattening her out and really landing strikes.
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